The Mount Airy Public Library is not just for books and computers — the library has transformed into a place for the entire community to learn an array of new skills; almost every day of the week brings a new activity, class, or social gathering.
Seniors and those suffering with limited mobility issues such as arthritis can attend a Tai Chi class, which is a form martial art focused on healing, improved balance, and stress relief.
A recent class began with a room filled with sunbeams from the windows and sunlights of the multi-purpose room in the Mount Airy Public Library.
Brack Llewellyn, Tai Chi instructor and local radio personality, was playing the pre-recorded musical background for the Tai Chi session, which was the perfect, soft, mesmerizing music one would picture for this sort of internal martial art form. The music set the peaceful tone for the class as everyone who entered quietly strolled across the floor and took their positions.
The class of about eight individuals were dressed comfortably, some electing to remove their shoes for the class, which began with a warm-up. Llewellyn gave an introduction for two new class members, then reminded everyone to breathe deeply and purposefully throughout the session. His voice seemed to flow with the music and it caused everyone in the room to truly concentrate on deep breathing.
“Tai Chi is all about mental focus. It loosens the joints and helps with balance and stress relief. Breathe deeply, picture the air filling your entire body, nourishing your muscles, bones, joints and internal organs with life-giving air.”
The students’ eyes were closed at this point, and the wind howling outside only heightened the experience.
As the warm-up ended and the Tai Chi session began, it was apparent that most of the students had been attending the class for quite a while, as they no longer needed to watch the instructor to follow along with the series of movements.
They began the session by “holding a ball,” an invisible ball, then stretched their hands out and in and joined that with deliberate steps to create a kind of soft, flowing dance.
“Air is filling your body and rushing through you like a mountain stream,” Llewellyn said softly. “Focus on the energy we create today and use our good energy to help someone else. Think over the past seven days and pick the best moment. Dwell there again for a little while.”
Llewellyn guided the students through each movement and reminded them that this is not a race, it is a very personal form of wellness. They created smooth movements, “like water running down the mountainside,” and Llewellyn announces that it is “time to move our first mountain of the day.” After going through the routine, the final run is in silence. The class moves together, in unison, as if guided by an unseen force.
The loudest sound in the room is the click of a camera. Maybe the perfect shot isn’t worth capturing in the midst of the quiet, meditative Tai Chi session.
As the class came to a close, Llewellyn reminded everyone about one of the purposes of the class: “Don’t worry about your movements being perfect - this is a very personal form of wellness…take the energy we created in the room today, the energy from each of us and remember that positive movement — tie it to the energy we create. We leave here today knowing we are more balanced. Our minds are more still and more at peace than when we arrived.”
After the session, the faces of the students told the whole story. They seemed to walk a little easier than when they came in, and the joy was apparent in their relaxed smiles.
The Tai Chi class is followed by a seated, basic yoga class taught by Angela Llewellyn and all of the Tai Chi students stayed for the next session. Brack Llewellyn had to leave for his job at the local radio station, but not before mentioning the positive effect of the class in his life and mentioning that “you don’t have to be an athlete to do it — anybody can do it.”
Linda Brown and Anne Mosher of Dobson have been attending the Tai Chi class since the first sessions at the Mount Airy library. They describe themselves playfully as “charter members” and began attending because they were neighbors and walking buddies, but they wanted something else to do. “Most people don’t understand Tai Chi,” mentions Brown. “You’d think that we aren’t doing anything, but we really are.” Mosher says that her balance has improved “dramatically” since attending the weekly classes.
Tai Chi is a form of martial arts, but is considered an internal martial arts, which is more focused and slower than typical forms of martial arts. It is both mentally and physically slower — it works the body as well as the mind and some would say, the soul or the spirit.
The form of Tai Chi practiced by the individuals at the library was developed by physician and Tai Chi master Dr. Paul Lam. There are many forms of Tai Chi and Dr. Lam developed several modern forms, most famously the Tai Chi program for people with arthritis.
Brack Llewellyn first began practicing Tai Chi during his time as an employee at Ridgecrest in Mount Airy. Part of his job was to address the wellness of the residents and part of the wellness program included a Tai Chi class. All of the employees who were part of the wellness team gathered for two days before the companies’ annual meeting.
According to Llewellyn, those two “long, very intense days” sparked his interest in Tai Chi. “Because so many seniors in particular suffer from arthritis, this was seen as a possible way to address some of their discomfort and mobility problems. After I left [Ridgecrest] in 2010, Angela asked me if I would teach a class at the library, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”
According to Llewellyn, individuals do not have to be senior citizens or suffering from arthritis to benefit from Tai Chi. Anyone can practice it in the comfort of their own home. A search for Tai Chi on the internet revealed countless free videos and instructional guides aimed at helping those who cannot attend classes. “Once you learn it, you can practice it anywhere — on the beach, at home, standing in line for the DMV, wherever you need it,” Llewellyn remarked.
Addressing the future of the class, Llewellyn said he would love to expand it, depending on the interest from the community. “In Asia, Tai Chi is commonplace. People there begin their day with Tai Chi, or they do it at their workplace. It could help to take the edge off of a tough business situation — just with twenty minutes devoted to it each day. There are schools that are using it and reporting decreases in violence and increases in concentration of the students. However you view Tai Chi, it wouldn’t have been around for so long if it didn’t work.”
Free Tai Chi classes for seniors and those with mobility issues such as arthritis are offered at the Mount Airy Public Library every Friday at 10 a.m. in the multi-purpose room. Tai Chi classes for seniors age 55 and older are also offered on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. at the Jones Family Resource Center in Mount Airy.